SARATOGA SPRINGS — Jim Dandy runner-up Tacitus was installed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite in a field of 12 for Saturday’s $1.25 million mile-and-a-quarter Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.
Second in the Belmont Stakes and third in the Kentucky Derby via the disqualification of Maximum Security, Tacitus will break from stall No. 6 in the starting gate as Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott shoots for his first-ever Travers victory.
Meet-leading jockey Jose Ortiz will be aboard.
“It’s [post] got to be good. We’re in the middle, and you can get a good trip from that post and a bad trip from that post,” Mott said.
Tacitus is considered the hard-luck horse in the field, after he got a wide trip in the Belmont and stumbled out of the starting gate in the Jim Dandy, almost dropping to his knees before recovering to finish three-quarters of a length behind Tax. Mott is adding a set of short-cup blinkers for the Travers to get Tacitus to focus on business a little better.
Tax is back for the Travers, and trainer Danny Gargan promised that his rider, Irad Ortiz Jr., would have the gelding blast out of the starting gate from the far outside post.
“I really don’t like it [12 post], but what are you going to do?” Gargan said. “Now, if he wins this, we won’t under-rate him, right? Somebody’s going to have to be real fast, because I’m going to have to heat it up. I have no choice from the 12 hole, so I’m going to break running and see where we stand. Whoever’s going better be ready.”
The field, in post-position order, with jockey and odds: Owendale (Florent Geroux, 6-1); Code of Honor (John Velazquez, 4-1); Highest Honors (Luis Saez, 10-1); Laughing Fox (Ricardo Santana Jr., 30-1); Everfast (Martin Chuan, 30-1); Tacitus (Jose Ortiz, 5-2); Mucho Gusto (Joe Talamo, 6-1); Chess Chief (Mike Smith, 30-1); Looking At Bikinis (Javier Castellano, 10-1); Scars Are Cool (Tyler Gaffalione, 30-1); Endorsed (Joel Rosario, 15-1); Tax (Irad Ortiz Jr., 6-1).
All will carry 126 pounds. The Travers will be shown live by FOX on a broadcast from 5-6 p.m.
There are four horses in the field who haven’t won a stakes race: Chess Chief, Endorsed, Looking At Bikinis and Scars Are Cool.
The name that jumped off the draw sheet was Chuan’s, a 24-year-old Peruvian rider who shows just 41 career starts in North America and has never ridden at Saratoga.
Trainer Dale Romans said he has been impressed with Chuan since he was recruited from South America to ride Romans’ Kentucky-based horses at Ellis Park.
Preakness runner-up Everfast has had a different jockey on his back for each of his last five races, and will get a sixth in the Travers, with Chuan, who has won over 1,200 races in Peru. His agent is Romans’ son, Jake.
“First of all, go look up his record,” Dale Romans said. “He is the king of South America. And I wasn’t the one that found him. This’ll give him a whole lot more credibility: [retired Hall of Fame jockey] Ramon Dominguez found him for me. And if anybody knows a great race rider, it’s him.
“We brought him up after Robby Albarado broke his arm. Martin has been riding for us at Ellis Park, and I’ve just been more and more impressed. He reminds me of the great young kids that are riding up here, [Luis] Saez, [Jose and Irad] Ortiz and [Manny] Franco.”
Mechanicville native Chad Brown has two in the field, Curlin winner Highest Honors and Looking At Bikinis.
“I like both posts, so no complaints here. They’ve been training real well,” he said.
Mucho Gusto comes off the bench to replace Bob Baffert-trained stablemate Game Winner, who was supposed to run in the Travers and may have been the favorite, but will stay in California because of a slight fever.
When Baffert was in town for McKinzie’s Whitney win on Aug. 3, he said Mucho Gusto might be considered for the seven-furlong Allen Jerkens on Travers Day and would only be a Travers candidate if it looked like it would be rainy, muddy day.
Although Tacitus is the favorite, Dwyer winner Code of Honor should draw much of the attention from the betting public. Shug McGaughey chose to skip the Jim Dandy and train Code of Honor up to the Travers. He blew out four furlongs in 49.27 on the Oklahoma Training Track on Monday.
“It doesn’t worry me,” McGaughey said of the No. 2 post. “It’s the luck of the draw, whatever you get. They’ll spread themselves out going a mile and a quarter, and we’ve got a good rider in Johnny Velazquez, and he’ll know how to navigate around there.”